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Ian Morton's picture

While I have a fair bit to

While I have a fair bit to comment on the morality concern of animal research, I am going to postpone these comments, as Rebecca and I plan to do our presentation on morality and social cognition. The one point I will make is that I found it interesting that in class we were largely concerned with “where to draw the line” and with offering justifications for what qualifies moral animal testing (e.g. rats wouldn’t survive in the wild anyway). This seems to suggest that moral judgment is not nearly as rational a process as we tend to believe or assume. While we are tempted to offer justifications that supposedly gave rise to our moral judgments in a rational process of deliberation, perhaps these justifications are merely a post hoc attempt to explain the moral judgments that we’ve already reached unconsciously. This is a point that Rebecca and I will likely expand upon.

Beyond the moral concerns, I would like to contribute my own understanding of the values and concerns of using animal models for social cognitive research. There are numerous observations that suggest the environment, including the social environment, can change brain physiology (neuroplasticity). Changes in brain organization will consequently result in changes in both cognition and behavior. It is important that this interaction between brain and environment be considered in planning methodology. For example, laboratory settings such as testing conditions create foreign environments for lab animals. Such foreign environments can in turn induce stress, producing physiological changes (e.g. endocrinological changes), which in turn can produce behaviors that don’t reflect real-world social behavior. Additionally, there are observations to suggest that living environment can have profound effects on rodent brain structures, which consequently can alter their behavior.

With the relationship between brain and environment in mind, it is important that researchers account for how the experimental environment and animal living conditions could be effecting observations. I am not attempting to suggest that animal models not be used for studying social cognition, but am rather trying to highlight an additional concern to consider when discussing the value of using animal models.

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